August 2014

Big Data for Better School Education

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S Chockalingam

S Chockalingam
Commissioner, School Education Department, Government of Maharashtra

IT and ICT has helped in making government’s initiatives more efficient and transparent, thus providing equal opportunity to every kid, says S Chockalingam in a conversation with Kartik Sharma of ENN

Please throw light on some of the landmark initiatives by the Education Department that contributed to the welfare of Maharashtra.

The education sector has witnessed a sea change due to excellent implementation of IT and ICT, leading to widespread modernisation in the admission procedure. Online admissions have successfully been introduced in Pune and Mumbai schools, ensuring easy admission to students and relaxing parents from neverending queues outside institutions. Admission forms are easily available to students on the Internet and at comfort of home. Once they are through with this initial step, they are allotted to schools according to their preferences, keeping in mind the total available seats. Implementation of IT has helped in assuring transparency and ease, for end customers.

Underprivileged students with no Internet access can visit our help centers, where they can avail facilities of online admission, avoiding long queues at desired institutions. For instance, where vacancies outnumber applications, seats are allocated randomly to students based on their preferences of subject or curriculum.

There are 4000 students in Pune and 2000 in Mumbai and each one of them received an allocation letter, without actually visiting the institutions. Allocation letter is generated online for every student and the moment they visit the school with a hard copy, they are qualified for admission. They also received an instant SMS confirmation on their allocation and soon it is processed. The online admission is meant for the benefit underprivileged children by granting them 25 per cent quota under the RTE (Right to Free and Compulsory Education) Act. This implementation of IT in education is one sector which has received positive reaction from beneficiaries.

What kinds of schools are involved with this initiative?

This online admission initiative covers all the schools. But when we brought this initiative with 25 percent quota under RTE Act, only private schools were covered, as the government schools provide admission to kids from varied backgrounds. The online admissions was basically designed for private or self-financed schools so that these institutions have 25 percent seats reserved for underprivileged kids.

“We are planning to introduce smart schools on a small scale… World class education quality will be ensured by data classes, required hardware and internet connectivity. But all that would be critical and costly because of the large number of schools, and that remains a big challenge”

This implementation of RTE has been more effective online. Do you think the use of IT helped you in implementing RTE more effectively in the State and do you have initiatives for rural schools?

Yes, the involvement of IT has helped in making the initiative more efficient and transparent, thus providing equal opportunity to every kid.
For rural areas, the department will soon create three big datas. Though we are having database for schools and teachers, we feel the need of having similar detailed data of students. There are more than 1.6 crore students in the state and we are trying to get all of them on our planned data base. This will help us to know about a particular student, who is eligible for scholarship or some special benefits.
The data would also assist in monitoring the progress of students which can be shared with parents as well. Teachers too can analyse the educational progress of kids. We will be integrating this city with parents’ portal and a timely SMS would be sent to the parents informing them on important matters about their kids.
An additional initiative would be to eliminate paper mark sheets, instead mark sheets will be uploaded online where students can log in and find out about their scores.

Is managing the huge data of students a challenge, if so, then how do you counter it?

Indeed it is a big challenge, as far as students are concerned there are lakhs of them. But concerning the teachers it’s not a big issue, as there are 5 to 10 teachers per school and their data can be entered from cyber cafes or from neighboring schools who have Internet connection. The same is not with the students as the number is massive, so we’ve decided to have at least one PC or laptop per school but even that is cost-sensitive. For the internet connectivity, we are planning to connect, through National Open Fiber Network (NOFN) which is currently being undertaken in the areas of Gram Panchayats.

So, will this initiative help you build smart classes?

Definitely, we are planning to introduce smart schools on a small scale 100 schools of the like, immediately and at least 500 this year. World class education quality will be ensured by data classes, required hardware and internet connec tivity. But all that would be critical and costly compared to the connectivity because of the huge number of schools and that remains a big challenge.

Do you think a PPP would help in delivering better education in Maharashtra?

We don’t have exactly a PPP model but rather a CSR model, for example Thermax foundation is running a model as a CSR policy in Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) where the buildings are owned by PMC but Thermax has taken over, teaching and other IT infrastructure. But for PPP there are concerns with the large real estate in places like Mumbai and Pune. However, we have various service agreements with various private organisations, they provide us with the services like hardware, software and other services for a certain period of time and they get paid for the services they provide for that period of time.

Tell us about your vision for the education sector in Maharashtra.

I feel that the big questions on education today should and cannot be answered by small steps but by technology like big data and a strong content delivery. Through this we can make a big change in the education sector in Maharashtra. I believe that Maharashtra is very good in parameters quantity wise but we have a lot to do in quality and this is the right time for us to do it and technology will help us to achieve that.

 

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